Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6.31)
An Idea Worth Spreading
TED—an acronym for technology, entertainment, and design—is a non-profit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” As its name indicates, TED began as an institute for mass media moguls and artists and quickly received notice for its elite annual conference and "TEDtalks" lecture series. But it soon became apparent the interests and ideals of TED’s primary (and secondary) audience reached far beyond the arenas it first identified. Five years ago the institute inaugurated the TED Prize, three annual $100,000 grants to thought leaders who then reveal his/her “wish to change to the world” at the next year’s conference. Past Prizewinners include Bono (2005), Bill Clinton (2007), and in 2008, Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun, historian, and progressive theologian. She defined her wish thusly:
I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of leading inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christian and Islam and based on the fundamental principles of universal justice and respect.
Apropos of TED’s constituents, Armstrong frames her wish in lofty language. In a subsequent TEDtalk (posted below), however, she breaks it down to its essence. Every “great world religion”—including those not based in “Abrahamic traditions”—shares one core value: moral reciprocity, i.e., The Golden Rule. Not only does Armstrong make a credible case that doing to others as we would have them do to us is an idea worth spreading. By the time she finishes her talk, she removes all doubt if each of us seizes and acts upon it, we can change the world.
Good News Is Not News Until We Make News
The Golden Rule is no news. Global pervasiveness and millennial perpetuity make its validity a foregone conclusion. As Christians, we embrace it as good news, the Gospel epitomized in Christ’s life and lessons. While we typically quote Luke 6.31’s more concise rendering of The Golden Rule, in Matthew 7.12, Jesus couches it in the same language He uses with His Great Commandments: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Since Jesus is the embodiment of the Law and Prophets, obedience to The Golden Rule is the key to conforming to His instruction and example. It’s not an idealistic goal or a soft-pedaled suggestion. It’s a rule—a must-do, not a should-do.
Armstrong’s clarion-call to return to Christ’s doctrine of “justice and respect” (or, love and tolerance) stresses the Rule’s one aspect we conveniently overlook: good news is not news until we make news. The revelation of God in Jesus and our reconciliation to God were never intended to stop with each believer’s personal beliefs. Faith in Christ changes us to enable us to change the world. We’re supposed to make news, to obtain notoriety as people of fearless compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance. Obedience to the Rule is the glue that holds the Gospel together and the energy that keeps it alive. We’re expected to command the spotlight, not as superstar do-gooders, but as dazzling reflections of God’s luminosity. In Matthew 5.16, Jesus tells us: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We draw light by emitting light and then deflecting it, taking no glory for us to direct all of it toward our Father. That’s the Rule’s ultimate goal.
It’s enlightening to realize The Golden Rule has been on the books long before Jesus preaches it. Written circa 500 BCE, Leviticus 19.34 reads: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself.” Roughly 100 years before Christ, the Talmudic scholar Hillel writes: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” In The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2006), Armstrong finds parallel principles emerging in Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism during the same period (900-200 BCE). Thus, Christ’s advocacy of the Rule isn’t original or unique. Yet His teaching of it is nonetheless revolutionary. Before Jesus, the Rule exists as an ethical precept. He transforms it into spiritual expression. It transcends individual morality to reveal the present nature of God through human personification of His love and mercy.
“In everything,” Jesus says in Matthew 7.12, short-circuiting any justification for selective application of justice and respect. He distills obedience to the Rule as constant analysis of every moment—a sort of preemptively reversed quid pro quo. Whatever we ask, that’s what we do. Do we want others to care for us? Then we care for them. Do we desire unconditional acceptance from those who reject us? Then we accept them as they are. (Glance back at Leviticus.) Do we ask forgiveness for our mistakes? Then we forgive those who withhold forgiveness. Living the Rule fills every minute of our lives with golden opportunities. It changes our lives, the lives we touch, and the world we live in.
(Hat-tip to Cuboid Master for the Armstrong inspiration.)
Living the Golden Rule requires constant analysis of every moment in life. Whatever we ask, that’s what we do.
(Tomorrow: Out of There)
Searching youtube for Armstrong’s TEDtalk turned up a second video produced by her initiative, The Charter for Compassion, and left me in a quandary about which to post here. I finally decided to go with both, offering an option depending on the time each reader has. The Charter piece is shorter, slicker, and truly moving. The TED piece is longer, more informative, and by far more fascinating. You decide—but if I were you, I’d probably want to watch both…